More than 500 people packed the Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16 to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and call for our nation’s government and its religious organizations to make King’s dream of economic justice, good jobs and care for the unemployed a reality.
Led off by Buddhist drums, the Interfaith Service for Jobs brought together Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders and workers said the first step towards honoring King would be for Congress to extend unemployment benefits. The service was sponsored by Faith Advocates for Jobs.
Our leaders must act to make jobs a national priority, said Rev. Paul Sherry, national coordinator of Faith Advocates for Jobs. Congress has a short time to extend benefits for millions of unemployed workers. “Good jobs can be created; it’s just a matter of will. We will walk the halls of Congress to demand that our representatives create good jobs so mothers and fathers can feed their children. We will walk the halls of Congress to demand that our leaders extend benefits to the unemployed.”
John Butler and Linda Evans, two unemployed Washington, D.C. workers, told the crowd that they were organizing, protesting and pushing for the national leadership to create good jobs. Butler said it was hard having to decide between paying his rent or buying needed medicines. “America, you can do much better than this,” he proclaimed.
Evans said she was concerned about the future of the “babies” who are just starting work. They were raised to believe that getting an education would lead to a good job. But that’s not the case anymore, she said.
Every human being is created with a God-given meaning and purpose in life, Rev. Dr. James Forbes said in his sermon. God is a working God and we fulfill our purpose by working. Any society, economic system or person who stifles a person’s fulfillment by denying them work is “ungodly,” said Forbes, the Harry Emerson Fosdick Distinguished Professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
He reminded the crowd that the official title of the 1963 march at which King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”
Drawing on the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son in Luke 15, Forbes said the richest 1 percent of Americans are lost and confused, believing that the wealth they have and the blessings they receive are for their own enrichment and not that of all people. He called for every church, synagogue, mosque and religious organization to adopt just one unemployed person in their community to start putting a dent in unemployment one person at a time.
An interfaith group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders led the crowd in a series litanies for worker justice, including those who are unemployed, underemployed and their families, for a faithful national budget, for victims of wage theft who are not paid what they are owed. Other litanies called for worker safety, an extension of unemployment benefits, more opportunities for young workers entering the workforce and for workers’ rights to join a union to be respected.
The renowned 100-voice Shiloh Baptist Church constantly raised the spirit of the service to high levels with stirring renditions of several well-known hyms such as “We’ve Come A Long Way Lord”, “Amazing Grace”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”,”The Storm is Passing Over”, and “We Shall Overcome.”